Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.

In 1986, Gjelten became one of NPR's pioneer foreign correspondents, posted first in Latin America and then in Central Europe. Over the next decade, he covered social and political strife in Central and South America, the first Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege (HarperCollins), praised by the New York Times as "a chilling portrayal of a city's slow murder." He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent's View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton).

After returning from his overseas assignments, Gjelten covered U.S. diplomacy and military affairs, first from the State Department and then from the Pentagon. He was reporting live from the Pentagon at the moment it was hit on September 11, 2001, and he was NPR's lead Pentagon reporter during the early war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Gjelten has also reported extensively from Cuba in recent years. His 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. The New York Times selected it as a "Notable Nonfiction Book," and the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and San Francisco Chronicle all listed it among their "Best Books of 2008." His latest book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), published in 2015, recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country's doors to immigrants of color. He has also contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other outlets.

Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work, including two Overseas Press Club Awards, a George Polk Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.

Updated at 2:42 p.m. ET

Pope Francis has called for legislation to protect same-sex couples, according to comments he made in a new documentary that mark a break from Catholic doctrine.

"Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They are children of God and have a right to a family," the pope said in an interview in the documentary Francesco, which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival. "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."

In Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump put forward a Supreme Court nominee who embodies a set of voters the Democrats need on their side to win elections. She's a well-educated, white, suburban Catholic woman.

Many Democrats object to her well-documented conservative views in such areas as abortion, health care, guns and immigrant rights, but they must tread carefully in opposing her nomination so as not to alienate those voters, especially women, who may be inspired by Barrett's life story.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that Abby Bogdan's views are her own and not those of her employer.

The Trump and Biden campaigns this year are both targeting Catholics, with messages reflecting their differing judgments of how Catholic faith values might push swing voters in one direction or another. In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, it's a critical effort.

Republicans hope opposition to abortion will drive Pennsylvania Catholics to support President Trump.

The Lutheran church did not have many ordained African American ministers in 1955, so when a call went out that year for a new Lutheran pastor to serve a majority Black congregation in Montgomery, Ala., it was answered by a white clergyman in Ohio, the Rev. Robert Graetz.

Graetz and his wife, Jeannie, already had a record of church-based civil rights activism, and some Lutheran authorities worried that Graetz might become ensnarled in the developing racial unrest in Montgomery, where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor.

The 2020 presidential election is likely once again to feature religion as a campaign issue, if the Republican and Democratic conventions are any indication.

Speakers at the Republican National Convention this week touted the religious credentials of their own candidates, but they were equally determined to question the faith of their opponents, with Joe Biden their main target.

Former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz told the convention that the Democratic candidate is a Catholic "in name only," citing his support for abortion rights.

Five months after the coronavirus forced houses of worship across the country to close their doors, a new survey finds that two-thirds of regular churchgoers feel it's now safe to resume in-person worship.

Religious organizations, having received as much as $10 billion in the first round of COVID-19 aid, hope to receive more funding under any new relief package.

The drive to reopen churches around the country appears to be losing momentum as a result of the surge of COVID-19 cases.

Pastor surveys by the Barna Group have found that the share of churches reporting a return to in-person worship fell from 56% in June to 49% in the most recent survey. The Barna surveys, reported by Christianity Today, also showed that 5% of pastors now say their churches will not resume in-person worship until 2021.

Twenty years ago, a sociologist at Rice University directed a study of efforts by white evangelical Christians to address racial inequality.

Christians the world over have been united in their revulsion over the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer, and faith leaders from across the theological spectrum have spoken out about the lessons they think Christians should draw from the incident.

Many Protestant and Roman Catholic ministers have emphasized a Christian obligation to love one's neighbor and to work for justice in the earthly world.

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The plaza between St. John's Church and Lafayette Park was full of people nonviolently protesting police brutality late Monday afternoon when U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops, with the use of tear gas, suddenly started pushing them away for no apparent reason.

And then it became clear.

Houses of worship around the country on Friday got a presidential green light to open immediately.

"I call on governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now," President Trump said in remarks at the White House. "These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united," he said. "The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue and to their mosque."

Francis Collins, the evangelical Christian who as a physician and scientist directs the National Institutes of Health, has been awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize for his commitment to challenging the idea that science and religion are at odds.

The conservative argument that stay-at-home orders by government authorities reflect a dictatorial impulse seems to be gaining momentum.

In the latest example, a manifesto promoted by conservative Catholics alleges that the Covid-19 pandemic is being used as a "pretext" to deprive citizens around the world of their fundamental freedoms and promote "a world government."

Religious leaders in America who have had qualms in the past about taking money from the government may be relenting under financial stress. Surveys suggest that between a quarter and a half of all Christian churches in the country have applied for emergency loans under the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with most of their applications approved for funding.

The 2016 election highlighted Donald Trump's successful courtship of white evangelicals. This year, much of the focus could be on Catholics. The presidential campaigns are fighting for votes in the Catholic-rich Midwestern states, and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, is himself a Catholic.

No vaccine or effective treatment has yet been found for people suffering from COVID-19. Under the circumstances, a physician in Kansas City wonders whether prayer might make a difference, and he has launched a scientific study to find out.

"It has to be a true supernatural intervention," says Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy.

A cardiologist at the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute, Lakkireddy is the principal investigator in a clinical trial involving 1000 patients with COVID-19 infections severe enough that they require intensive care.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit African Americans proportionally harder, with higher infection and death rates than for any other demographic group. The global health crisis, however, may actually have strengthened their religious faith.

A new government program that funnels taxpayer money to churches, synagogues and mosques has brought welcome relief to some financially stressed houses of worship, while leaving others — many of them serving communities of color — still struggling to survive.

State and local restrictions on religious gatherings, introduced as measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, have emerged as a top religious freedom issue and prompted a flurry of new lawsuits charging that such measures violate the First Amendment or state religious freedom statutes.

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New York City continues to be the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, and within the city some of the hardest-hit communities are minority neighborhoods in Queens.

In all, Queens has registered more than 31,000 cases of the coronavirus, according to data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, more than any of the city's other four boroughs.

In a development that could challenge the Constitution's prohibition of any law "respecting an establishment of religion," the federal government will soon provide money directly to U.S. churches to help them pay pastor salaries and utility bills.

The nationwide move to close churches, synagogues and mosques as part of the broader effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus is meeting some new resistance.

In a new "safer-at-home" order banning many activities, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Wednesday said "attending religious services" is among the "essential" activities that would be permitted. The order came two days after the arrest of a Tampa pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, who held worship services in defiance of a local ban on large gatherings. That ban is now effectively overruled.

A Florida pastor learned Monday that his defiance of a county ban on gatherings of more than 10 people was not something the local sheriff was willing to tolerate.

Rodney Howard-Browne, co-founder and pastor of the River at Tampa Bay Church, held worship as usual on Sunday, even encouraging his members to attend. By the next morning, a warrant had been issued for his arrest, and a few hours later he was taken into custody.

As the coronavirus drags on, partisan differences over the seriousness of the threat are apparently diminishing.

A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that three of four Americans say they're likely to avoid all or almost all of eight possible group activities, from getting on an airplane to taking public transportation or going to a bar.

Among the people affected by the downturn on Wall Street are some alleged victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

The Diocese of Erie in northwestern Pennsylvania, identified in 2018 by the state attorney general as one of the places where clergy abuse had been especially egregious, has announced that it is suspending the processing of victim claims in response to what it calls the "economic turmoil" brought about by the coronavirus.

Churches around the country are weighing whether to suspend worship services in response to the coronavirus, with their decisions dependent on their size, their proximity to an outbreak, and perhaps even their political leanings.

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